(by Taylor Branch)
This is the first of a trilogy re American civil rights politics under the stewardship of Martin Luther King Jnr, covering the years 1954 to 1963, ending with the march on Washington and the death of JFK. This giant work is bigger than a mere bio of King and its scholarship and sheer mass of detail is leavened with clear and eloquent prose and mature reflection.
No panegyric, this: King is treated as a human, remarkable though he was, and as the politician he surely was. A wonderful work that demands to be read and read again. The Varnished Culture admits with embarrassment to having not yet taken on the last 2 pieces of the jigsaw, Pillar of Fire and At Canaan’s Edge. Thumbnail reviews to come in due course.
On August 28 1963 came a high point of the civil rights movement in America – the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Taylor Branch has a brilliant chapter on this thrilling moment, carefully deconstructing the machinations that led to the culmination, where King addressed several hundred thousand people and millions more on television: “He recited his text verbatim until a short run near the end: “We will not be satisfied until justice runs down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”…[Then King abandoned some lame suggestions in the speech to advance the cause in various communities and instead he urged continued struggle to bring change ‘somehow.’] “There was no alternative but to preach. Knowing that he had wandered completely off his text, some of those behind him on the platform urged him on, and Mahalia Jackson piped up as though in church, “Tell ’em about the dream, Martin.” Whether her words reached him is not known.” Courtesy of You Tube, here’s the concluding portion of the “I Have a Dream” speech, 28 August, 1963: